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THE JUVENILE COURT

At the heart of the system of juvenile justice is the juvenile court whose form and nature are shaped by the underlying principles of the welfare approach and individualized justice. Unlike the adult system where emphasis is placed on the nature of the offense committed, the juvenile variety emphasizes the nature of the person who committed the offense, and so decision-making in the juvenile court is guided by what is considered best for the juvenile’s future development and not what the society’s best interests would demand. The system has its own distinct terminology: its court holds “hearings” not “trials,” “makes findings of guilt” not “conviction,” and “makes disposition orders” not “passes sentence”; its custodial orders are “detention orders” not “imprisonment”; and juveniles in custody are “inmates” not “prisoners.” In order to make the basic principles operational, the juvenile court has continued to be given exclusive jurisdiction over all offenses—except very serious ones—involving juveniles. The juvenile court is presided over by a panel chaired by a lawyer or magistrate, with a social worker and a representative of the community as its members. There has always been a requirement that one of these persons must be a woman in order to ensure that both a female and male perspective would be brought to bear upon the proceedings. Its hearings are private, proceedings of the hearings are not allowed to be reported in the news media, and those who appear before it are protected from being identified.

Ensuring that the juvenile is not corrupted by adult criminals has dictated that such juveniles be sent to remand homes upon arrest or upon the juvenile court determining that the child is required to be kept in safe custody during the pendency of a hearing. A lot of emphasis is put on the social background of the child in order to ascertain whether the requisite amount of care and supervision would be available to the child. Where the residential environment of the juvenile is identified as constituting a source of moral danger, e.g., when parents themselves are of doubtful moral character or peer influence is a factor in the child’s delinquency, then the child might be placed in a custodial facility. This was essentially the system put in place in 1960 and practiced for the next 40 years until reforms influenced by national and international commitments were initiated.

 
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